Sam flopped down in her chair the second she walked through the door. What a day. It all came swimming back to her, like a lazy river of memories. It felt like weeks had gone past when really it was only the hours. She closed her eyes, snoozing away before she had to go make herself some dinner, when a cold, wet nose made her jump.
"What is it Kip?" He was looking at her with sad, brown eyes, the ones he used on her when he wanted something really, really bad. In his mouth he held the handle end of his leash. Sam groaned. "Now?! We just got home." And she had just taken off her shoes. As if he knew her frustration, he stuck his soft, pink tongue out, still holding onto the leash, and licked her hand. At her look of consideration he wagged his tail. They could read each other like they were open books…and if dogs could read.
With one last groan, Sam got up, taking the leash from Kips mouth and hooking the other end to his collar. She slipped on a pair of flip-flops, grabbed her phone and her keys, and locked the door behind her. His sad eyes turned to ones of mischief and adventure as his nose became permanently attached to the ground. There was still quite a bit of light left outside. After all, summer was coming to a close, days ran long until fall came around. The air still smelled of its coming, the breeze cool and crisp, the leaves on the trees just beginning to turn. She remembered weather like this when she would get thrown up in stunts, yelling out cheers, tumbling until it hurt. It was exhilarating.
Sam walked in contentment, letting Kip lead her down a side-walked road that they had traveled for a while now. Kip barked and Sam's head shot up. They had reached the church. Besides various cars that were parked in the parking lot, there was a big truck. On the bed of the truck there was drum equipment, being loaded off. Sam checked her watch. It was six fourty-five. She smacked herself in the head. She'd totally forgotten about the auditions. Sam tugged a little on Kip's leash, signaling him to slow down.
"Heal, Kipper." He stopped until she reached his side, and continued walking at her pace. Do I really want to be here? I mean…I can't sing! She thought of this afternoon after practice, hanging out with Ryan and Josh. Kip barked again. "Shhh."
The rest of the drums unloaded, Ryan heard something that was somewhat like a dog barking. He looked around, not expecting much of anything. There were houses all around this church, some with fenced in yards containing dogs. Josh, on the bed of the truck, looked around as well. "Hey look! There's Sam." It was Sam, no doubt taking Kip on a walk.
Sam saw Josh walking toward her, waving boyishly. Ryan got off the back of the truck, putting up the tailgate. Kip whined with anticipation. With a smile on her face, Sam told Kip to stay. He sat obediently, staying in place as she unhooked his leash. Every muscle was tensed, every breath full of excitement. "Go get 'em," she whispered to him with a pat.
Kip took off like a shot, heading toward Josh. Josh knelt down like he was about to tackle, catching Kip's slobbery, licking face in a man-to-dog embrace. Ryan caught up with Josh about the same time that Sam did. She was laughing as Josh gingerly sat down and started a playful wrestling match. Ryan wondered if she came for the auditions. He also wondered if she was as good a singer as Josh had let on.
"Alright Kipper, come here." The dog was having so much fun that it took him a second to follow his master's command. He hopped over a surrendering Josh toward Sam. In the same spirit of play he jumped up on her, making her take a step back. She quieted him with a touch on his nose. It's amazing how she does that, thought Ryan. I mean, the dog is as big as her on his forelegs and she quiets him with a touch. An image came to his mind of mother and child.
"What brings you here to these parts," Josh said, quirking his mouth in a Texas accent.
Sam giggled. "Well, Kip was desperate for a walk." She hooked back on his collar. "About halfway here I remembered those auditions you were talking about."
"No, I'm sorry, you're early. That's instant disqualification," Josh said sadly. He pulled off his sadness so well that it made both Ryan and Sam laugh. He popped up from the ground and held out his hand. Sam took it. "Just kidding, welcome aboard."
Josh always made the world around him seem much more than it was. He had a big imagination and an even bigger heart. They walked back to a building just below the church.
"So where'd you head off to so fast today?" asked Ryan, his curiosity getting the best of him.
Sam gave him a smile. "When I came to Powerhouse I had to leave Kip with the Tripoli Hotel dog walker. Needless to say he doesn't like it much, being surrounded with all those dogs. He's a people dog."
"And you're a—"
"A dog person, yeah. People can be tricky, but dogs…they are simple."
Ryan nodded. "I see." She seemed like a people person to him. She was always friendly…of course, there was that time she was upset. It seemed like it was yesterday. Ryan mentally kicked himself. It was yesterday!
"After that we went by the hospital. What Kip loves better than people is…little-people?"
"So you went to go see the kids?" asked Josh, jumping into the conversation.
"Yeah," she said, wrinkling her nose as if the idea was silly to hear but not so silly to accomplish. Josh opened the door to what seemed like a basement. The floor was poured concrete with various marker writings on it. People signing their names, some adding "I love Jesus," for clarification. Straight in front of her was a stage covered with carpet. Not a big stage, but enough of one, raised off the ground a foot. There was a girl with an electric guitar strapped around her. At a strummed note, she adjusted the amp, trying to get the sound even. Chairs were set up in front of the stage with no one sitting in them.
"Am I the first one?"
Ryan and Josh took the stage. "Yeah pretty much. We don't know how many people will show up," Ryan said. He swept his hand toward the girl. "Sam this is Kayla."
Kayla's head shot up at the sound of her name, looking all around. "What, huh?"
"Kayla this is Sam."
She looked at Sam, light coming to her eyes. A friendly smile played across her face. "Hi!"
"Hi," Sam replied sheepishly. Out of all of the things she thought she would be doing this afternoon, painting her nails, fixing some dinner, reading her Bible, she never expected to actually be at an audition…with music…and speakers. Get a grip, Sam. It's not like it's this big thing anyway. It's a youth band.
"Ok," Josh started, clapping his hands together. "Let's get started, shall we?"
Sam wanted to sink into the floor. "Started with what? There's nobody here."
"Ah, there's where you're wrong," continued Josh.
"You're here," said Ryan.
"B-but I'm not part of the youth."
"But you can sing."
"Who told you such a lie?"
Josh put his hands up in surrender. "Wait a minute Sam, I know what you're thinking. Can you play an instrument?"
"Guitar? Bass? Keyboards? Drums?"
"Wait a minute, what was that other thing that a band needs. I don't know, it's on the tip of my tongue. Don't tell me, don't tell me."
"A vocalist," Kayla piped in.
Ryan looked from Josh to Kayla to Sam. Her voice might have sounded upset, but she certainly didn't look it. There was a goofy grin on her face, as if playing along just for the fun of it. Kip, the big dog who would tear your face off if you even looked at Sam wrong, was wagging his tail. Josh signaled the three on stage to get in a huddle. Sam exchanged glances with Kip. What is Josh up to?
Breaking from the huddle, Ryan sat behind a set of keyboards, Josh went behind the drums, and Kayla began tuning her guitar. Sam felt invisible. "What's going—"
Before she could finish her sentence, Ryan played an introduction to the song "Amazing Grace". A hymn, thought Sam. She didn't imagine a band, especially a youth band, would be into playing hymns. Then she remembered Tory. "All songs are hymns if you really get down to it." Kayla started to sync a soft guitar harmony with the piano. It sounded beautiful, enticing really. Sam wanted so much to sing. She sang with or without music most of the time. But others weren't listening then. What started out as a hum because a full-fledged song as Sam just let her voice go. Closing her eyes, no one else existed. At the last few bars of song, Ryan stopped playing, meeting Josh's approving eyes. She really could sing and it was beautiful.
Sam covered her blushing face with her cool hands. "See, Sam? You can sing."
"Josh, you tricked me!"
"Ah, what are friends for?"
Everyone laughed. Like a switch had just been turned, people started showing up. Ryan, Josh, and Kayla were sure to make introductions, but Sam couldn't help but feel like an outsider. It had been so long since she had been a part of a church family and she missed it. But she stayed, until the last person was finished.
"I have to go," she announced, walking towards the door. Ryan's heart skipped a beat, though he didn't know what for. "I'll see you guys later, it's been great." With a wave, she walked out the door. They had been there for nearly two hours, listening to people sing. Some of them hit really raw notes, but a handful of them sung wonderfully. In their two hours of auditions (more than they'd expected really) the sun had gone down. Though it wasn't completely dark, dusk was coming to an end.
"Shouldn't somebody give her a ride home?" asked Kayla, coiling up an amp cord.
"Nah, she just lives around the—"
"Yeah, it's getting dark out there," interceded Josh. "Ryan, maybe you should give her a ride home while we pack up the equipment."
"Alright, I guess." Though he really was being volunteered, he didn't seem to mind. But he had to hurry, Sam could be about halfway home by now. When he go outside, however, Sam was sitting on the church steps. Walking up the parking lot to her, he noticed Kip was gone.
"Hey, where's Kip?" he asked, sitting down beside her.
Sam smiled at his concern. "Oh, around here somewhere. Went to go find a tree, if you know what I mean."
They reached a lull. Sam didn't like lulls. They were fine among friends when you could just sit and enjoy the company without having to speak but…what did she know about Ryan? Only that he was a Christian. And that he was friends with Josh. And that he went to devotions. And he played in a band. He had dark hair that was slightly curly; gentle, dark blue eyes, and a smile that— Whoa, stop right there, thought Sam with a blush.
Ryan fought his way out of the lull. "I…I have instructions to walk you home."
Sam grinned. What was she to say? That she didn't mind? Didn't mind, cherished the thought even. "Ok." She got up, pulling Ryan up with her. To his credit, she merely gave him balance as he helped himself up. They started walking again and it was like this morning all over again. Sam gave a shrill long whistle and Kip appeared out of the woods to the right of the church. He came bounded up to her and she gave him praise while she hooked on his leash.
"I don't see how you need that thing when he listens to your every word," said Ryan with a chuckle.
She shrugged. "It's all a part of the training technique. When I let him run and play he knows he can do his own thing until I tell him not to. When he's on a leash he knows not to do his own thing even if he gets distracted." A squirrel ran across the road, making Kip's ears perk up, but he stayed in place. That just proved her point in an odd, perfectly-timed sort of way. "See?"
"Not only that, but Kip's a big dog. It makes people feel comfortable knowing he's leashed, even if he wouldn't hurt a fly. Wait, no, he eats flies. Well, he won't hurt any people in the very least." Sam giggled at her explanation. She'd never thought of it before, putting Kip on a leash. She'd just always done it. Her mother said she had a knack for training, maybe it was just one of those trainer's instincts.
"You had a lot of people audition today," Sam said, trying for chit-chat.
"Yeah, I know. We didn't expect that many people. Now we have to go through and pick one person out of all of them."
They reached her door. As she turned to unlock it, Ryan was suddenly tumbling into a twilight zone of emotion. What made his heart pound so much when he was with her? How could he know someone so well and yet not know her at all? It didn't make any sense. Sam opened the door and let Kip off his leash. He went straight for his pillow beside the couch. He flopped down on it with a sigh.
"He's all tuckered out," laughed Ryan.
Another lull. Sam hated those. Ryan bounced up and down on his toes, trying to think of something to say. "Well, um, I'll see you Monday then."
"Yeah. Thanks for walking me home."
Suddenly it wasn't like they barely knew each other, it was like he'd done this a thousand times before. He had never walked a girl to her door in his life.
"Bye," she said, slowly closing the door.
Walking back to the church Ryan finally figured out why his heart was so jumpy. He was falling fast.